Going to the Dogs

What’s summer without those decadently greasy meals you can hold in one hand? Oozing with your choice of gooey, dripping toppings, hot dogs and burgers are the best picnic, beach and county fair food around. Indeed, if you top your dog just right, you can have a perfectly balanced meal with grains, dairy, vegetables and meat. Maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but New Hampshire has plenty of little shacks and diners dedicated to these well-adopted all-American treats. Here are just a few I love.

You’ve seen it here before but it’s worth mentioning again because of their dedication to all things burger. Wild Willy’s (Rochester, www.wildwillysburgers.com) is all about the beef — 100 percent Angus beef — big, thick and juicy.

Another burger favorite is a late-night spot, although stopping at the little red diner that is Gilley’s (175 Fleet St., 431-6343) in downtown Portsmouth is often a lunch-must as well. The burgers here are dripping with juices from the searing hot griddle, and the meat is ground by hand each day. There aren’t many condiments to choose from, but the basics are here —relish, onions, ketchup and mayo. The burgers are served in a paper wrapping on a simple small paper plate, and if you get a double with cheese, it’s the most decadent burger around. But if you’re not in the mood for a burger, they also have some of the famous steamed Schutz’s hot dogs with kraut or chili. Lunchgoers stop in as early as 11:30 for a big plate of dogs and beans.

Hot dog shacks come and go with the seasons and one new find this year is Laurie’s N.Y. Dirty Dogs (682-2950) on Route 1 in North Hampton near Callahan Motors. Laurie just has a little cart, but people formerly from down south, New York that is, squeal their brakes to get a dog from Sabrette, that thin, slightly crunchy hot dog with snap. She has some traditional Manhattan-style toppings with a spicy red onion sauce or a Long Island with onion and sauerkraut, and gets her brown mustard directly from the Big Apple.

The Sunny Day Diner (745-4833) on Route 3 in Lincoln is another one of those funky old authentic spots that serve traditional hearty food. Their cheeseburgers are a mere $4.25, their dogs under two bucks and the burgers are absolutely perfect with mayo, ketchup and especially loads of cheese.

Another great casual sit-down spot for a burger is Rogan’s Village Bake Shop (778-8003) at 31 Portsmouth Ave. in Exeter. Business is brisk every Saturday and Sunday morning for breakfast, but sit at the lunch counter for a huge cheeseburger with chili. On Monday nights in the summer you can hang out and watch the old cars come in for cruise night and have a dog and some soft-serve ice cream.

If you don’t mind the industrial chic décor, one of the biggest bargains around is the snack bar at Costco in South Nashua. For $1.50 you get a Hebrew National dog and a refillable soda. And you don’t need a membership.

Hard also to believe, but true, the hot dogs at New Hampshire’s International Speedway are very good. That, and it’s one of the best places in the state to have fun and chow down at the same time. The roar of the engines might drown out your order at the snack counter, but just write it down or do some semaphore to get someone’s attention.

Last but not least, although it’s not in New Hampshire, it may be soon. Keep an eye out for the arrival of the world famous (and this is no exaggeration) Flo’s Hot Dog (www.floshotdogs.com). The tiny red stand along Route 1 in Cape Neddick, Maine, has been mentioned in Saveur magazine and plenty of other prestigious glossies, but it’s still down-home dog cooking. Flo’s is moving into other spots very soon and rumor has it some N.H. spots are on the list. At the very least you can find their famous sweet and spicy, reddish brown relish at Calef’s Country Store in Barrington and a few other state locations. Locals will tell you that the best preparation for the steamed dog is simply mayo and that famous relish. And be sure to stop at any little steaming carts at fairs and street corners to grab a dog or burger on the way to the beach this summer! NH

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner and now independent food writer who lives in Exeter. Hear her on “Wine Me Dine Me” — a radio show with co-host Susan Tuveson Fridays at 6 p.m. on WSCA-FM 106.1.